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6 Nations

Schmidt’s Fairy-tale Six Nations Ending

Joe Schmidt will coach Ireland in the Six Nations for the final time on Saturday but what has his time in the tournament been like?

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The 16th of March 2013, a day most Irish rugby fans have wiped from their memory as they finished their Six Nations championship in fifth place but exactly six years on and things couldn’t be any more different.

That poor finish was the final straw of Declan Kidney’s coaching reign of the national team. Things looked bleak, a loss to Italy was the lowest point of the tournament, change was needed, and that’s where Joe Schmidt came in.

Following a successful spell in charge of Leinster, during which he won two Heineken Cups, Schmidt decided to test the waters at international level.

There was a sense that something big could happen, but it’s a sense that Ireland felt after winning the 2009 Grand Slam, only to fall from grace and slump to fifth within four years.

When Schmidt took charge of his first Six Nations championship there was optimism but winning the tournament first time was above all expectations. The only loss that year was away to England in a 13-10 defeat.

A year later and it was a tournament nobody could forget, with Wales, England, France and Ireland all in with a chance of winning on the final weekend.

A thumping Welsh win meant Ireland needed to defeat Scotland by 21 points or more, they won 40-10.

That left England needing a 27-point victory or more over the French to claim the title. A 55-35 cracker of a game handed Ireland back to back Six Nations.

However, the defeat they faced that year came away to this Saturday’s opponents Wales.

In 2016 Ireland finished in third, while in 2017 a second-placed finish included ending England’s 18-game unbeaten run, but again there was a loss to the Welsh in Cardiff.

Last year, Ireland stormed to a Grand Slam, crushing everything in front of them. Leading to a No 2 ranking in the World Rugby standings.
This year has been a different story for the Kiwi and his troops with an opening day demolishing at the hands of England followed by scrappy wins over Scotland and Italy.

On Sunday, Ireland produced one of their best performances of the Schmidt era as they dominated France, keeping them scoreless until the final three minutes.

That win has kept Ireland’s slim hopes of retaining their title alive, albeit needing a win over Wales and a favour from a depleted Scotland against a rampant England.

Another championship would look amazing on Schmidt’s CV, but he has done that before, what he hasn’t done is win a match against the Welsh on their home turf.

This will be his third and final attempt to claim victory in Cardiff. A feat that would complete his CV and he is well aware of it.

“Yeah, it would be nice to tick it off,” he said when asked about the possibility of a win over the men in red.

Under Schmidt Ireland have developed into one of the best, if not the best team in the world, he has kept them in touching distance of the Six Nations in each of his campaigns.

It’s remarkable to consider.

He has been the man at the wheel behind every new record for the Irish in recent years and will go down as possibly the greatest Irish coach ever and will have hopes for more records at the World Cup later this year.

However, as he prepares to say goodbye to the Six Nations, exactly six years on from Ireland’s fifth-place finish, it would be fitting for Schmidt to leave Cardiff with the full-house of wins and who knows maybe even a fourth championship title to conclude the fairy-tale.

6 Nations

Sexton extends contract

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(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a 1 year extension to his IRFU contract up to the end of the 2021/22 season.

The 2018 World Player of the Year took on the Ireland captaincy in January 2020 and is one of Irish rugby’s most decorated players.

He has been central to both Ireland and Leinster’s success for over a decade following his international debut against Fiji in November 2009.

A two time Lions tourist in 2013 and 2017, Johnny has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and four European Cups with Leinster.  He has represented his provinces on 171 occasions scoring 1505 points.

David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented,

“Johnny continues to show he has the quality and appetite to compete at the highest levels.  He is playing an important leadership role with the Ireland squad and his insight and experience continues to be of great value to the group.”

Johnny Sexton, commented,

“I am really enjoying my rugby and I want to keep learning and adding value to both the Ireland and Leinster environments.   I am enjoying the challenge of captaincy and the added responsibility that it brings.  My appetite for success is the same as it ever was and the ambitions of both the Ireland and Leinster squads match my own.”

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6 Nations

Ireland release big names back for Provincial derby

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Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Ulster and Leinster will welcome back a few of their big names for this weekend’s key PRO14 game at the Kingspan Stadium.

The Ireland coaching group will retain a 23 man panel for the two day mini-camp on Thursday and Friday this week at the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sports Ireland Campus.

The squad dispersed upon return to Ireland on Saturday evening following the win over Italy in Round 3 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship.    The provinces are involved in Guinness PRO14 interprovincial action this weekend so 13 players have been released to access game time.

Players who picked up knocks over the weekend – Jordan Larmour (hip), Tadgh Furlong (ankle), Dave Kilcoyne (HIA) and Ronan Kelleher (ankle) have continued their recovery under the supervision of the national medical team and will be further assessed later in the week.

The 13 players returning to their provincial bubbles to avail of game time in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend are – Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan (Connacht),  Ed Byrne, Ross ByrneRhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Craig CaseyAndrew ConwayShane DalyChris Farrell (Munster) and Stuart McCloskeyTom O’Toole (Ulster).

Ireland Squad (Two Day Camp, March 4/5, IRFU High Performance Centre

Backs
Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 91 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 8 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 50 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 9 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 5 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 88 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 33 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 97 caps

Forwards
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 1 cap
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 20 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 18 caps
Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) 8 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 47 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 107 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 61 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 19 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 9 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 41 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 35 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 49 caps

Returning to Provinces

Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 30 caps
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps
Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 12 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 1 cap
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) 1 cap
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 18 caps
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 14 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 4 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
Rhys Ruddock (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 30 caps

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6 Nations

Ireland Make Seven Changes For Italy

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(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The Ireland coaching group have made seven changes to the side that started against France in round 2 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship. There are two uncapped players in the replacements.

Craig Casey, who was on the bench for the game against France, and Ryan Baird are in line for their first international caps in Stadio Olimpico on Saturday afternoon.

Johnny Sexton returns to captain the side and partners Jamison Gibson Park in the halfbacks.

This weekend has come too soon for Conor Murray who is continuing his hamstring rehab.

Robbie Henshaw, who earns his 50th cap for Ireland, will again partner Garry Ringrose in the midfield. Henshaw made his Ireland debut against USA on the 2013 Summer Tour, a few days before his 20th birthday.

Hugo Keenan retains the No.15 jersey with James Lowe on the left wing and Jordan Larmour coming in on the right hand side.

A new front row combination of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadgh Furlong is set to start.

James Ryan returns to the second row to partner  Iain Henderson.

Tadgh Beirne shifts to the backrow filling the blindside role with Will Connors at openside and CJ Stander at No.8.

The replacements for the weekend are Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Jack Conan, Billy Burns, Keith Earls and the uncapped duo of Baird and Casey

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Italy, 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Stadio Olimpico , Saturday, February 27, kick-off 2:15pm):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 8 caps
14. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 26 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 32 caps
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 49 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 4 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 96 caps CAPTAIN
9.
 Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 7 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 40 caps
2. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 8 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 46 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 60 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 33 caps
6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 19 caps
7. Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) 7 caps
8. CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 48 caps

Replacements

16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 18 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 106 caps
18. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) uncapped
20. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 17 caps
21. Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) uncapped
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 5 caps
23. Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 90 caps

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